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The narrator of this book is Stevens, a loyal butler, who has worked at the grand Darlington Hall for most of his adult life.  Set in 1956, when Stevens receives a letter from former housekeeper Miss Kenton, who left Darlington Hall several years earlier to get married, he sets out to meet her.  En route, he reminisces about his time at Darlington Hall, specifically the years when he served the now deceased and disgraced Lord Darlington, in the years between World War I and World War II.

I found myself being drawn into this book, and ended up being very moved by it.  The characters – principally Stevens himself and Miss Kenton are believable, and if not always completely likeable, are certainly shown as two very decent people, who may have both missed the best years and opportunities of their lives.  (Such as when Stevens meets some villagers on his journey and allows them to believe that he had more influence over world affairs than he ever could really have hoped to have had.)

The dual narration works well, and while most of the book is devoted to Stevens’ time serving Lord Darlington, his present day narration show how those earlier years have affected him, despite his seeming never to want to show emotion.  Tellingly, on a couple of occasions in the present day narrative, he denies having worked for Lord Darlington, due to Darlington’s reputation as a Nazi sympathiser.  At times I wanted to shake Stevens and tell him to allow himself to show his feelings; not to miss out on an opportunity.  He was a perfectly drawn character, sometimes frustrating to read about with his fastidiousness and his occasional obtuseness, and ultimately a sympathetic character.

Also, this book is surprisingly funny at times.  Stevens attempts to teach Lord Darlington’s godson about sex (under Lord Darlington’s instruction) had me giggling, and his occasional referrals to the art of banter, and his attempts to learn this art, were also very amusing.

In the end, the message behind the book is a simple (and obvious) one, but this story is so beautifully told and so absorbing.  It’s no surprise that this book won the Man Booker Prize…I would highly recommend reading The Remains of the Day.

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